Filmmaker Victoria Thomas discusses transitioning to directing and exploring the diversity of experiences of the African diaspora in her Sharp Shorts-funded film A Birthday Party.
When did your interest in filmmaking start and what were you doing before you became a filmmaker?
I knew as a kid and made films as a past-time, recreating everything 007, mostly with my Dad who is a big cinephile. However, I trained as a lawyer, because my parents did not consider writing a ‘proper job’ and they were paying. I worked in house for a few years in the legal sector, then quit after an opportunity arose to do news camera for the BBC and ITN in the West Midlands. That gave me the courage to apply to film school and I relocated to Edinburgh in 2006 to do an MFA in Film. Since graduating from both Screen Academy Scotland and NFTS, I have worked as a producer, specialising in international co-productions between Europe and Africa.
What made you want to apply for Sharp Shorts?
I decided to focus on developing work as a writer/director after spending years producing, because that was why I came into the industry. I wanted the opportunity to make a short drama prior to directing a feature.
Tell us a bit about your Sharp Shorts-supported film.
A Birthday Party explores the concept of home and questions whether it is a place or a feeling. The story juxtaposes a day in the life of twin sisters, who have a different relationship with some elements of their cultural identity.
What did you learn through taking part in Sharp Shorts? How was your experience working with the Short Circuit team?
The workshops were great and the script evolved a lot during the feedback sections with Mar and Alice. Since making the final selections, Sharp Shorts has been a great exercise in navigating the process of working as a writer/director and developing the soft skills to survive in the long run.
“I am interested in exploring narratives that reflect the diversity of experiences of the African diaspora. I believe that we have a lens that is unique because of our cultural duality and we do not see enough of those across the breadth of output in the European cinema space.”
What was your creative process? How did you get ready to make your film?
I have been prepping to make this film for the past three years quite intensely with Tania the DOP and Ellen, one of the actors, and that continued once we had the funds to make it a reality. There were a lot of late night conversations and once the actors came on board, it was a Zoom fest because we were all very aware that we did not have the luxury of time to prep and rehearse .
It was important to me that the actors were comfortable with each other and me so that by the time they arrived on location, the ice was broken. Personally, I added more meditation than normal, to keep my focus and stay sane.
Why do you feel stories like this are important?
Speaking specifically as a British citizen of African descent, I am interested in exploring narratives that reflect the diversity of experiences of the African diaspora. I believe that we have a lens that is unique because of our cultural duality and we do not see enough of those across the breadth of output in the European cinema space. I also centre female protagonists because I am one.
What was the greatest hurdle you encountered whilst shooting, can you tell us how you overcame that?
The lack of racial diversity and inclusion behind the scenes was the greatest hurdle that I never overcame but it opened up my eyes to the amount of work that needs to be done to make that a reality. So I guess the education was the bonus.
How easy was it to navigate the COVID-19 situation? What support did you have?
I have spent the past few years working in documentary where crews are small, so honestly even in a post-COVID world I would probably try to not have too many people around. Of course there are additional costs but there was additional funding for this and the crew was slim. Plus everyone was in masks and we had a great COVID supervisor on set, Jamie, who kept everyone on their toes.
What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to apply for Sharp Shorts?
Team work makes the dream work, so choose the right collaborators. You want to enjoy and feel comfortable in the process.
Interested in applying for Sharp Shorts? Applications are now open until 10am on Monday 17th May.